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Navigating the rankings maze

  • Story Highlights
  • League tables of top business schools are ever more common
  • Schools warn that the rankings can be too broad and not helpful for all
  • Hence a growth in specialized tables -- for example one for Hispanic students
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A specific league table of the best business schools for Hispanic students? Why, some might ask, would anyone need that?

Austin, Texas: A good choice for Hispanic students, according to a new survey.

Well, it not only exists -- compiled by the U.S.-based Hispanic Business magazine -- but the just-released 2008 version is the 11th annual version.

The reason? It lies in the fact that business school rankings are everywhere. Would-be MBA students and magazine alike are, it would seem, addicted to them. Each year brings more and more of them, crunching data culled from students, alumni, faculties and others.

There is just one problem -- whatever the methodology the answers often seem very similar.

The same schools dominate most of the rankings, generally swapping places within the top 10 or 20: Wharton, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and a few other U.S. institutions, plus -- if the survey is global -- London Business School and a couple more in the UK, as well as the French/Singaporean Insead school.

One of the best-known general rankings has released its 2008 version. The US World and News Report, which publishes league tables on everything from high schools to trucks and places to retire, has also come up with a very familiar top echelon, with Harvard, Stanford and Wharton occupying the top three slots and a host of other well-known names nearby.

Critics of the rankings -- many of them inside business schools, even those who do well in the rankings -- urge caution, arguing that students should not become obsessed, and should think instead about what factors directly affect them.

Even US World and News Report warns that its tables "can inform your thinking, but they won't hand you an easy answer," adding: "We urge you to use them wisely."

So what to do? One answer is the recent growth in more specialized business school rankings.

An example of this is the Wall Street Journal/Harris global ranking compiled from the opinions of corporate recruiters, which rates the schools by a series of criteria including the perceived excellence of the faculty and whether its graduates tend to be well rounded candidates.

Last week, the latest incarnation of the Hispanic Business table was released. This specifically assists Hispanic applicants in the U.S. by covering factors such as the percentage of Hispanic students and the surrounding cultural environment, as well as more traditional areas.

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. London Business School, UK
3. Columbia, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. Harvard, U.S.
6. Insead, France/Singapore
7. MIT: Sloan, U.S.
8. IE Business School, Spain
9. University of Chicago GSB, U.S.
10. University of Cambridge: Judge, UK
Source: Financial Times 2008

Here, at least, the top 10 is different from the usual and might offer some new insights.

At number one is the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas in Austin. The survey notes approvingly how the "close proximity and long standing relationship with Latin America creates an ideal atmosphere ... for Latinos and Hispanic Americans."

Recruiters are equally effusive, with Jesus Barron of oil giant Chevron telling the report that McCombs students get "a world-class business education that is highly relevant to both U.S. and international Hispanics, regardless of professional goals."

Perennial favorites Stanford, Dartmouth and Tuck still make the top 10, but elsewhere are schools including those at the University of Texas in El Paso and San Antonio, and two Florida-based institutions.

One of these, Florida International University's Chapman school is praised for its "active learning environment" but also has another attraction -- a 55% Hispanic enrolment.

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